Job skillset changed for maternity cover. Is my job under threat?

My line manager has lined up a specific individual to do my job whilst I am on maternity leave. In order to make this work he has rewritten my job description and person specification to align specifically to this individual. The new desirable skillset now includes skills that are completely irrelevant for the role which I have been doing for many years. On top of this the job has been promoted at a higher rate of pay than my existing salary. I was previously at the top of the pay scale for my role and was recently denied a pay rise with this being given as the reason so I am confused as to why a few months later my role is being advertised with a higher salary. I know my line manager is really keen to bring this man into the company but there has previously been no vacancy for him. I am worried about my job security now and that I will be made redundant whilst on maternity leave. Is there grounds here to raise a grievance with the HR department?

notepad with "I'm on maternity leave" written


I understand that your employer has lined up an individual to do your job while you are on maternity leave. You are concerned that your employer may be making arrangements to make you redundant whilst you are on maternity leave and you would like to know what your options are. Please note that we are unable to fully advise you of the legal position as we do not have the full background but we set out the general position below.

Broadly speaking, an employee who returns to work before the end of the first 26 weeks of maternity leave (Ordinary Maternity Leave) has a right to return to the same job in which she was employed before her absence unless a redundancy situation makes it impracticable to continue to employ her under her existing contract. Where a redundancy situation arises, the employee is entitled to be offered a suitable alternative role (if available).

Where an employee has taken more than 26 weeks of leave altogether (Additional Maternity Leave) and it is not reasonably practicable for her to return to the same job, an employer should take steps to ensure that the employee returns to a job which is both suitable and appropriate and which are on no less favourable terms than she would have been on had she not been on leave.

In essence, in order for your employer to be able to lawfully push you out of your current role they would have to show that a genuine redundancy situation has arisen or (in the case of additional maternity leave), that it is not reasonably practicable for you to return to the same job. Whether a genuine redundancy has arisen or whether an alternative role would be suitable would depend on the facts and there are legal tests that would need to be satisfied.

At this stage, your employer’s motives for bringing in the individual are unclear, although I note you suspect that this is ultimately to force you out of your role. Given that you are yet to go on maternity leave, it is expected that a reasonable employer would have consulted with you in respect of any proposed changes to your role (assuming that it is your role that the new job description does apply to and not a new role that your employer is creating separately). Failure to do so would increase the risk for an automatically unfair dismissal claim for your employer. Further, there may be scope to argue that your employer’s decision to release the new job at a higher rate of pay despite you being recently denied a pay rise is potentially discriminatory. You should take holistic legal advice, (providing the full background and documentation) on your options in this regard.

If you have not already done so, it would be worth having an informal discussion with your manager in an attempt to understand what your employer’s intentions are. Your employer may also have a grievance procedure via which staff may raise any concerns and you should follow this. It will be advisable to make contemporaneous notes of every conversation you have on this matter as well in case you need to rely on them in the future if matters are not resolved.

*Albert Mould assisted in answering this question.

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